Skip to main content
Original Issue

A Fateful Turn Alex Zanardi's gruesome crash in a CART race in Germany compounded the week's horror

Last Thursday, as he explained his decision to proceed with the
German 500 in Lausitz two days hence, CART chairman and CEO
Joseph Heitzler acknowledged that "we will be racing with a great
deal of sadness and compassion." Heitzler announced that CART
would change the name of the event to the American Memorial 500
but otherwise proceed as planned with the first race the circuit
has ever held in Europe. However, rather than help the sports
world take a step toward normalcy, the race left fans even more

Two-time CART champion Alex Zanardi, 34, was leading with 12
laps remaining when he made a quick pit stop to top off his gas
tank. As he was leaving the pits, he lost control of the back
end of his car and slid across the patch of grass that separates
the pit road exit from the track. His car ended directly in the
path of that of Alex Tagliani, which was going nearly 200 mph
when it T-boned Zanardi. The two drivers were airlifted to a
hospital in Berlin, where doctors amputated both of Zanardi's
legs above the knee. As of Monday, Zanardi was in critical but
stable condition. Tagliani suffered minor injuries.

That Zanardi's accident was the result of such an innocuous move
as getting his car out of the pits is cruelly ironic. When he
joined Chip Ganassi's CART stable in 1996 after an unremarkable
stint in Formula One, he quickly earned a reputation for daring
maneuvers. In September of that year, at Laguna Seca Raceway in
California, he darted inside leader Bryan Herta on the final lap
at what was widely considered to be an unpassable junction of the
road course--a blind downhill S turn known as the Corkscrew.
Zanardi bounced over the curb and flew through the air before
wrestling the car under control and outrunning Herta to the
checkered flag. The move is still known in CART circles as the
Pass. A friend said to Ganassi, "Five hundred drivers have
thought about that move; eight a------- have tried it." What went
without saying is that only one had pulled it off, and few racing
observers were surprised when the one who did followed up his
rookie of the year performance with back-to-back CART
championships, in 1997 and '98.

Zanardi's personality has also won him admirers. Appearing on
the Letterman show in 1998, he charmed the host, a race fan who
had been part owner of Herta's car at the time of the Pass, with
his dual gifts of gab and gourmet. During the appearance Zanardi
called his grandmother in Italy to be sure that he had the
proper egg and flour proportions for the homemade pasta he was

Zanardi gave Formula One another shot in '99, but following a
disastrous campaign in which he failed to finish in the top six
in any race and was left without a single point, owner Frank
Williams bought out the remainder of Zanardi's contract. After
taking a year off and resting at home in Monaco with his wife,
Daniela, and their three-year-old son, Niccolo, Alex returned to
CART for the 2001 season. He could not replicate his earlier
success. His best finish was fourth, and he hadn't led a single
lap all year until last Saturday--a day on which a very dark
week became a little darker.

--Mark Bechtel